BY KRISTOPHER KYER
Years ago while living in New York City, I landed my first summer stock job and was off to Ohio and Michigan to do two shows in three weeks with the Kenley Players.
The first show l learned was George M, which starred Ken Berry (star of the television show F Troop). While we did that show at night, we were learning My Fair Lady, featuring motion picture star Jane Powell, during the day.
In its heyday during the sixties and seventies, summer stock on the East Coast had a circuit in which shows were put up quickly, usually with a recognizable TV star in the lead role in order to sell more tickets. People like Paul Lynde, Ann Miller, Bobby Van, and hundreds more looked forward to playing parts they had long wanted to play on the stage.
There aren’t many summer stock places left. The closest one to Los Angeles is the Sacramento Music Circus, which still pulls them in and does a quick summer season. Out on the East Coast, the Theater By the Sea in Massachusetts is one of the few that is still operating, but it’s a far cry from what it was like several decades ago.
I was lucky enough to be called by a producer who I knew when I was at Disney World. He brought me in a few years ago to the Steps Theatre, a small theater in Bellingham, Massachusetts, just south of Boston, and with two weeks’ rehearsal, we put on a production of Willy Wonka. At Kenley Players, we would often learn a show in just ONE week.
Last summer Keith Mottola of the Steps Theatre wanted to produce his first summer stock season. For months, he and I planned it from L.A. over the phone. We opened with Peter Pan, followed by The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, and Fiddler on the Roof, all hard hitters designed to draw family audiences in, which they did. But to stage FOUR musicals in just eight weeks is not a simple task. You have to constantly juggle cast members, who are doing other shows at night while rehearsing when they can during the day.
I have this knack for being able to juggle twelve things at once, and truly LOVE the stress and creative process. But to participate in a summer stock season is to watch organized chaos. While one show is going on costumes are being prepared for the next show and sets are being built, ready to load in the exact same day you strike the previous show. It is an amazing process.
I wish summer stock was still as popular as it was decades ago, but I fear it is becoming the vaudeville of our time, destined for extinction. But for now, I savor it, and if you have a chance to check out a summer stock production somewhere, keep in mind that they put the entire show up in just a week or two, all while performing a different show.
Kristopher Kyer is currently playing Fagin as well as directing Steps Off Broadway’s production of Oliver! in Bellingham, Massachusetts. He has been seen multiple times in Simi Valley, performing in such shows as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Music Man, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.